Californians are a little obsessed with farming. That makes sense, as California produces most of America’s salad, almonds, strawberries, and garlic.
Californians love this last item so much that the state has an entire amusement park devoted to the pungent vegetable. That’s right–a garlic-themed amusement park!
A Garlicky Good Day
Gilroy Gardens originally opened in 2001. It’s located in Gilroy, California, a city that unironically calls itself “the garlic capitol of the world.” Gilroy is located near the central coast, a bit over one hour south of San Francisco.
Gilroy Gardens is a full amusement park, complete with roller coasters, a water park, a Disneyland-esque train that goes around the park, spinning kids’ rides for the little ones, a carousel, food, and more.
But unlike Disneyland with its fairytale and Star Wars theming, all the rides at Gilroy Gardens are themed around various agricultural items.
Ride that Garlic!
You can start your garlic-themed adventure with the Garlic Twirl, a ride that’s essentially the same as the magic teacups in Disneyland. Except here, you’ll be riding inside giant cloves of garlic!
You’ll also want to make your way to the Artichoke Dip. It’s a gentle kids’ ride in which kids bob around in giant pretend artichoke halves (Watsonville, which is nearby to Gilroy, is the Artichoke Capitol of the World.)
As you walk around the park, you’ll encounter Gilroy Garden’s mascots, Gil and Roy. They are–you guessed it–giant personified garlic cloves.
After floating around a bit in the park’s artificial lake with swan boats (curiously, no ag theme here), you’ll want to stop for some food.
Naturally, on the menu you’ll find plenty of garlic! In particular, you’ll want to grab some of Gilroy Garden’s famous Gilroy Garlic Fries. These are french fries coated in shaved garlic.
They have a strong smell, but on my visit I found the taste was much more subtle than you’d expect. Make sure to visit the water park, which has lots of signs about conserving water at home so more of it can be used for agriculture.
Finally, as you leave the park at the end of the day, glance back out your window to see the Gilroy Garden sign–complete with a garlic clove forming part of the little G–receding into the distance.
California’s Strange Contrasts
Gilroy Gardens is a perfect reflection of California’s strange contrasts. It’s a hugely developed tech haven. Yet at the same time, you’ll find cows grazing the tawny hills of the East Bay, and goats and chickens in San Francisco backyards.
Silicon Valley houses giants like Meta and Google’s headquarters. But just a few decades ago, it was all orange groves.
California may be one of the most modern places on earth, but it’s also deeply steeped in its agricultural past. What better place to explore that dichotomy–and also eat some tasty fries–than Gilroy Gardens?